DTC marketing to older and smaller patient populations

DTC marketing via TV is a great way to inform patients that a new treatment is available for health conditions with large patient populations. But what happens when your patient population consists of 200,000 people? Will DTC work? Yes, it can, but only if you understand your audience in-depth.

Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) is a term used to encompass the family of malignant diseases where immature blood cells in the bone marrow fail to become healthy blood cells. In the US, 20,000 new cases are reported annually, making MDS one of the most common blood cancers. The prevalence of MDS has been poorly assessed but is estimated to be between 60,000 – 170,000 patients in the US. So how would you reach these patients if you have a product that could help them?

The first aspect of this audience we need to understand is that advanced age is the predominant risk factor, with a median age of diagnosis of 71-76 years. This has implications for patients as well as caregivers.

Seniors, like any other demographic group, are not monolithic, and there are essential distinctions in their tech adoption patterns, beginning with age itself. Internet use and broadband adoption among seniors each fall off notably starting at approximately age 75. Some 68% of Americans in their early 70s go online, and 55% have broadband at home. By contrast, internet adoption falls to 47%, and broadband adoption falls to 34% among 75-79-year-olds.

But there is more to this data. One in five (21%) seniors (65 or over) have searched for health information online. Just 3% say they go online for health information at least once a week or more, 4% say once or twice a month, and 14% say less often than that. Only 8% of seniors say they get “a lot” of health information online. (Source: KFF).

But the key here is they DO go online for health information. Among those seniors who have ever gone online (31% of all seniors), 37% have used the Net to look for health information on prescription drugs (13% of all seniors).

TV and books are the media seniors are most likely to turn to for health information (21% get “a lot” of health information from each of these sources), followed by newspapers (17%), magazines (14%), the Internet (8%), and radio (5%). But how can I target seniors using TV?

Older audiences tend to value experiences, so it’s essential to ally with an MDS patient group and get patients who have used the drug to talk about their experiences. Keep in mind that your marketing here has to be message related. Stay on message with every touchpoint.

Videos and YouTube can be excellent methods to reach older audiences. Google states that:

  • One in three Boomers say they use YouTube to learn about a product or service.
  • Like other generations, Baby Boomers watch TV recaps, highlights, and their favorite shows on YouTube to stay in the know.
  • 68% of Boomers say they watch YouTube videos to be entertained.

So what does this mean for marketing teams? Video can take on more of the heavy lifting regarding senior marketing activities.

Rethink Your Creative and Media Perspective

Many people don’t appreciate being labeled a “senior citizen” or seeing an audience picture that’s an “old and gray” individual. The unintended but unflattering translation rubs against their younger mindset. To them, it announces: “You are aging, elderly, over the hill, old-timer, geriatric, wrinkly, or downright ancient.”

Was it a 25-ish young gun in the office who created the ad? Experienced marketing professionals and healthcare communicators recognize and avoid this classic mistake. But for young communicators anxious to tap the buying power of mature Americans, this is a cautionary tale. Know how to reach this audience and, more importantly, talk to them.

Seniors also like to receive mail, so developing a simple, easy-to-read, and understandable booklet can significantly increase your reach. Any TV spots should have a drive-to-action, whether a toll-free number or driving them to your website.

Do you need an unbranded site? According to the data, 10,000 people are diagnosed with MDS every year. An unbranded, disease-state site can work to educate them about their health issue. Your goal here is to make the brand the “go-to” for MDS health information.

TV can work, but it should not be national. Work with your agency to test spots regionally by measuring the call to action in each area. Seniors don’t tend to stream as much as younger audiences, and their TV viewing preferences are well-known by media buyers.

Finally, your branded website will need to tell a story and feature patient testimonials. Seniors are reluctant to trust advertisers who aren’t well-known. You need to explain who you are and how your drug works. You also need content from top MDS thought leaders talking about your product.

DTC for smaller patient populations can be highly effective, but you first need a clear picture of your audience (psychographics). Micro-targeting can work but takes time and effort.